Last month on my KMUD radio show, Monday Morning Magazine. I invited Humboldt County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Fridley to be a guest on the show, to talk about some of Southern Humboldt’s missing persons and unsolved murder cases. I’ve had Lt Fridley on the show before and he has always been great about it. So naturally, when I needed someone from the Sheriff’s Department, I called him.
It occurred to me that at our community radio station, we spend a lot of airtime trying to help reunite lost pets with their owners. Three times a day, we read the descriptions of all of the lost and found dogs and cats that have been reported to us, along with the phone number of the person to contact about them. We consider this a valuable service that KMUD provides to our community. It seemed to me that we should do at least that much to help bereaved families find out what happened to their missing or murdered loved ones.
My idea was to have Lt Fridley on the air for an hour to remind us of the known public details of some of the missing persons and unsolved murder cases, especially those that took place in Southern Humboldt, and to remind people of the phone number for the Sheriff’s anonymous tip line, in the hope of persuading anyone listening who had useful information to share it with law enforcement.
In the wake of the Netflix mini-series Murder Mountain, and the embarrassment it brings to our community and our Sheriff’s Department, and in this new era of legalization where SoHum growers prevailed upon the county to pay for and send 30 new Sheriff’s Deputies to patrol Southern Humboldt 24-7-365, I thought that in this new atmosphere of openness and cooperation, people might not feel so afraid to speak, especially if they could do it anonymously.
The idea seemed uncontroversial enough. Most people still agree that murder is bad, and that solving them should be one of law-enforcement’s highest priorities. I assured Lt Fridley that this would not be a confrontational interview, but that we would simply remind people of the public details of these cases and ask for help from the community, in a spirit of cooperation. I wanted to remind listeners that these victims were real human beings, with grieving families who desperately need closure, and I wanted Lt Fridley to give us the known facts about them. Lt Fridley thought it would be a good idea as well, and agreed to do it. He talked to homicide detectives, who cooperated with him to put the information together, and he spent an hour on air telling us what we know about these cases.
He had a lot of them. When Lt Fridley told me that we had plenty to talk about, I had no idea how many of these cases there were. Lt Fridley had assembled many more cases than we had time to talk about. As the hour wore on, I realized that the more of these cases he told us about, the more they seemed to blend together and the harder it became to keep them straight. At one point in the on-air discussion, Lt Fridley suggested: “We should do one of these a week.”
That struck me as a great idea. After the show, Lt Fridley and I exchanged emails about this. He told me that he, the detectives, and the Sheriff, thought this a good idea. I talked to KMUD’s News Director Sydney Morrone, and asked her if I could cover one unsolved murder case a week for KMUD’s Local News. She thought it sounded like a great idea too, and so I got the assignment, but when I emailed Deputy Fridley to schedule an interview, he dropped the bomb.
He told me that someone from “higher up” had squashed the idea, and that the Sheriff’s Department would not cooperate with our efforts. I asked him why. He said that it had something to do with them getting criticized for not treating all media outlets equally. That sounded weak to me, so I called Sheriff Honsal’s office and left a voice message, and sent him an email. A few days later, I got a response from the Sheriff’s Department media officer, Samantha Karges:
“Last month, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office provided KMUD’s Monday Morning Magazine with information regarding ongoing homicide investigations in which we would like the public’s help. At this time, a representative with the Sheriff’s Office suggested providing this information regularly to the public via your show. Following this conversation, the Sheriff’s Office began to explore how our participation in something like this would be possible, including the time commitment for detectives, sustainability of participation and fairness to all members of the media. While exploring this idea, several issues with this weekly commitment were identified, including equal access to information for all members of the media and the community.
While we believe that the community’s help is essential to solving a variety of criminal cases, in a county so interconnected as Humboldt it would be narrow-sighted to believe that only one section of the community can help with solving crimes in their area. Whereas in reality, all members of our county may have information regarding a criminal case, no matter where it occurred.
After further consideration into this project, the Sheriff’s Office has decided to respectfully decline its involvement.”
This smells like Bullshit to me. First, why should KMUD be denied access to this important, public information that so greatly affects our community? The reason they offer, it seems, is that unless all of the media outlets in Humboldt County make time in their schedule, and space in their publications, to help the Sheriff’s Department solve murders, they have no obligation to cooperate with us in our community effort to do so.
KMUD still wants to run these stories in the Local News, our flagship program, and I have delivered two of them, which you may have heard, but there are many more cases like them that you haven’t heard. I recycled the audio from my Monday Morning Magazine show to make these two news stories, but I have received no further cooperation from the Sheriff’s Department. KMUD’s Local News is a community effort. Any story I offer has to be cleared by our New Director, Sydney Morrone, who answers directly to KMUD’s elected board of Directors. Thousands of people support this station, and hundreds of volunteers work to keep this station on the air because KMUD’s Local News matters to the people of Southern Humboldt.
Don’t we as a community radio station, owe the families of the murdered and disappeared as much airtime as we afford any stray pit bull? More importantly, doesn’t the Sheriff’s Department owe us, as a community, their cooperation in this effort? If not, what do they think is so much more important? It’s enough to make you wonder: “Who are they protecting, and who do they serve?”
I finally got to see Murder Mountain, the Netflix docudrama miniseries about the disappearance of Garrett Rodriquez and the subsequent recovery of his body by the “Alder Point 8.” The film crew was in town for most of last year putting it together, and they hired me off the street to act in it, so of course I was excited to see myself on TV.
I enjoyed Murder Mountain. I thought they did a great job, and it includes some of the best images of Southern Humboldt’s natural beauty that I’ve ever seen. The series seemed quite slow getting started. I’m sure they could have told the story in two hours, and they included quite a lot of really boring footage of cannabis farms, but they also included lot about this community and it’s history. The series paints a broad portrait of Southern Humboldt, and a cannabis industry in transition, as the backdrop for the Garrett Rodriquez story. Every picture hides much more than it shows, but I am impressed by how deeply they explored this community and how well they told the story. I thought they told it accurately, with sensitivity and more than enough context. Most of the people I watched Murder Mountain with also seemed favorably impressed.
Of course, anytime anyone writes or produces media about the ugly sordid shit that really goes on around here, the knee-jerk reaction of locals is: “How dare those ‘yellow journalist’ outsiders come here to tell sensationalized stories about the bad stuff that happens around here!” According to these people, no one, except people born and raised here, have the right to report on anything that happens here, but when you ask those truly local locals, they all tell the same story: “It’s beautiful here. The people are cool, and everything is groovy. Now mind your own business!” Whether it’s a piece of investigative journalism about human sex trafficking, an expose about environmental destruction wrought by the marijuana industry, or my opinion column, for that matter, whether or not they’ve read it or seen it, a lot of people around here will automatically tell you that it is all just “sensationalized Hollywood bullshit.”
It surprised me that I didn’t hear more of that about Murder Mountain. I think a lot of people actually recognized that the producers of Murder Mountain went out of their way to get the story straight, and to present it in context. Murder Mountain sure doesn’t make us look good, but it tells the truth. Murder Mountain shows us a side of Southern Humboldt that usually remains hidden, and that no one around here wants to face, in a way that is hard to deny.
This time, it’s the Sheriff’s Department that is crying foul, and warning us about “sensationalized Hollywood bullshit.” They feel they were misrepresented in Murder Mountain. They claim that the filmmakers tricked them into believing that the show was going to be about the marijuana industry, not about Garrett Rodriquez.
Sorry guys. I don’t buy it. I will admit that Murder Mountain does not make the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department look good, but it’s the fact that Garrett Rodriquez’s murderer remains at large despite the community’s heroic efforts to recover his body, that casts a pall over the HCSD, not the documentary treatment. More than anyone else, Sheriff Honsal and his deputies, who must have all signed release forms, should know that anything you say, in front of a camera, with a microphone hidden in your shirt, will be recorded and used against you in the court of public opinion. If Murder Mountain embarrasses the HCSD, it’s not because of what they said on camera, it’s because of what they failed to do when they weren’t.
We should also note, however, that the disappearance of Garrett Rodriquez, or the dozens of other people who have gone missing, or been found murdered here in Humboldt County, did not prompt much public outcry, locally. We didn’t have rooms full of angry citizens demanding that the HCSD get to the bottom of this prolonged rash of cannabis industry related homicides and disappearances that happen around here all the time. We didn’t have any public meetings about that problem at all.
No, it wasn’t until a skinny kid from Fortuna shimmied underneath a locked security door and stole some bongs from a head-shop in town, that the folks of Southern Humboldt got up off their asses and filled the gymnasium of the Redway School. Those angry townsfolk didn’t complain about unsolved murders or disappearances in the hills, they complained about poor people smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and generally looking ugly in front of their businesses in town, so you can’t completely blame the Sheriff’s Department for prioritizing their resources accordingly.
Despite all of the self-delusional happy-talk we like to tell ourselves about our community and the cannabis industry, Murder Mountain offers us an honest mirror that reveals how our community looks to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, it’s not such a pretty picture, but that’s not the photographer’s fault.
I heard Daniel Mintz’s story about the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission’s annual report, on KMUD last night. In the story, we heard HRC Chairman Jim Glover tell us that they are listening to Southern Humboldt. Of course, he didn’t tell us what he heard from Southern Humboldt. He just said that they held a meeting down here, and that at least 30 people showed up for it. He didn’t give any indication as to why they had a special meeting down here, and why 30+ people in Southern Humboldt showed up to that HRC meeting on Superbowl Sunday.
He didn’t mention the epidemic of violence against poor and homeless people in Southern Humboldt. He didn’t talk about the people who were beaten with baseball bats on the streets of Garberville. He didn’t mention the gang of vigilantes who attacked homeless people on public land, claiming that they worked with the Sheriff’s Department. He didn’t mention any of the human rights abuses that people in Southern Humboldt complained to them about. In fact, he managed to get through the whole report without discussing any human rights violations anywhere in the county, but he wants us to know that the HRC is listening, and that they want to learn more.
In fact, Nezzie Wade was so enraged by how Jim Glover handled those original complaints from Southern Humboldt that she resigned from the HRC in disgust. A lot of people in Southern Humboldt were pissed about it too, and that’s why so many people turned out at the special HRC meeting on Superbowl Sunday. Many people feel that Jim Glover betrayed them, by taking those reports to 2nd District Supervisor, Estelle Fennell, who in turn, informed the alleged perpetrators about them.
Nezzie Wade felt that Jim Glover betrayed the HRC by not forwarding those complaints to the HRC Secretary, thus preventing other commissioners from seeing them, discussing them or acting on them. Here’s how she put it in her resignation letter:
“It was in relationship to the message line calls and email communications retrieved by a commissioner acting as the courier for the commission, that I became extremely inflamed over the course of two consecutive meeting (October and November) in which the reports “>and communications sent to the commission describing instances of vigilante violence in Southern Humboldt reported to the commission via the phone line and email were not revealed to the commission in a way that allowed the grave situations described in these communications to be disclosed to the commission. A violation of privacy and confidentiality occurred when the commissioner acted upon the information in the communications without authority from the originators or the commission, by disclosing the names of complainants and their issues to parties outside of the commission thus compromising the investigation and the ethical standing of the commission in the community. A real travesty occurred when the actual situations of violence were minimized and reported in their entirety as “possible vigilante activity” rather than actual occurrences with the documentation. The standard forms for intake on the message line were never submitted to the secretary nor email declarations of the victims of vigilante violence as clarified when I requested copies of them from the secretary, received no response prior to the November meeting, and was informed by the secretary that the commission did not have them; thus, no one had access to the information except the commissioner acting as courier at that point, nearly two months beyond the initial reports. It was in this context that I stated my intention to resign which I am now acting upon.”
“>So much for listening.
“>Then, Supervisor Mike Wilson started praising the HRC for their transparency. What a sucker! Anyone who thinks the HRC is transparent should talk to Chris Weston. Chris Weston was an HRC Commissioner for about three months before Estelle Fennell removed him, via text message, less than two hours after he blew the whistle on Jim Glover. Chris believed, rightly or wrongly, that Jim Glover was putting together a back-room deal in violation of the Brown Act. Chris forwarded the questionable correspondence to County Council to ask for a legal opinion. County Council never replied to Chris’ email. Instead, Chris was removed from the commission. This is how Chris Weston described his experience working on the HRC with Jim Glover, in a letter he wrote to DA Maggie Flemming shortly after his dismissal this past April:
“>The HRC Chairman, Jim Glover, has continually put obstacles in my path. He repeatedly ignored my emails and texts. He repeatedly claimed he did not receive my emails, then sometimes miraculously found them later. He refused to confirm that he would agendize my topics and proposals for discussion and action, so I confirmed with Ana, Deputy Clerk of the BOS office that all commissioners are equal and their requests to agendize should be respected. When I mentioned this to Mr. Glover on April 19, during a return trip from a special HRC meeting in Willow Creek, he yelled, swore like a sailor, used the Almighty’s name in vain, and pounded the steering wheel.”
;”>Chris believes that he was removed from the HRC illegally, and in retaliation for blowing the whistle on Jim Glover’s back room deal. The HRC bylaws tell us that the commissioners serve “at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors.” It does not say, “at the pleasure of the Supervisor who appointed them.” It seems that it should have required a vote of the full Board of Supervisors to remove a commissioner from the HRC, but that didn’t happen in Chris Weston’s case. Someone should look into why that didn’t happen, but everyone should realize that letting Supervisors appoint and dismiss HRC commissioners at will, makes the HRC more political and less principled.
“I talked to both Chris Weston and Nezzie Wade about their time on the HRC, and I’m sure that neither of them would describe the HRC as “transparent.” Here’s how Nezzie Wade describes the functioning of the HRC in her recommendations to the Board of Supervisors:
“Actions taken by the HRC have harmed its relationships with members of the Humboldt County community. The minimizing of vigilante violence in Southern Humboldt (and other complaints coming to the Commission) is not an isolated incident. The HRC has violated the rights of those it is intended to honor and serve through study or investigation and conciliation to alleviate tensions and conflict and by its recommendations to the BOS. The HRC has undermined the confidence and trust of the community.”
;”>And speaking of transparency:
;”There has been and continues to be a lack of transparency among Commissioners, and many issues are discussed (and strategies decided) behind the scenes in private conversations before the issues ever come to the table for the Commission to act upon… The recent incident in which the chair sequestered communications which did not come to the Commission table and in which he acted alone without Commission knowledge or direction has resulted in harm to residents of the county and this behavior needs appropriate reprimand or sanctioning.“
I’d have to agree.
“Finally, we should remember that, contrary to county guidelines, Jim Glover also serves on the Humboldt County Grand Jury. Not only does Jim Glover serve on both the HRC and the Hum Co Grand Jury, the primary civilian watchdog agencies of county government, he chairs them both. After watching Jim Glover’s weaselry on the HRC, I no longer believe anything the Grand Jury tells us either.
“I know that Supervisor Wilson wanted to thank these unpaid volunteers on the HRC for writing so much legislation for the Board of Supervisors, but here in SoHum, we’ll never trust them again. That’s what the HRC has accomplished in the past year. Excuse me for not congratulating them.
Last week, I chased down 2nd District Supervisor, Estelle Fennell to find out why she removed Chris Weston from the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission. Having been to a few HRC meetings, it was clear to me that Chris Weston actually cares about human rights. Most of the HRC commissioners seemed surprisingly indifferent to me. I mean, we have lots of “rights” fanatics around here, at least when it comes to property rights, the 2nd Amendment, and privacy protection, but the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission has got to be the most tepid organization designed for the purpose of promoting human rights, ever, in the whole history of the civil rights movement. I doubt that butter would melt in half of the commissioners mouths.
Estelle told me, emphatically, that HRC Commissioners serve at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors, so you can bet that we have a weak Human Rights Commission, because that’s what the Board of Supervisors wants. Chris Weston came to the special meeting of the HRC in Garberville, to hear about human rights abuses in Southern Humboldt, from the people who suffer them. Estelle Fennell couldn’t be bothered. Chris Weston wanted human rights issues agendized and acted upon by the HRC. Estelle, apparently, didn’t. Therefore, Chris Weston had to be removed.
Just look at Estelle Fennell’s atrocious record on human rights: She worked to pass two new laws to criminalize poverty, one prohibiting people from asking for help, and the other prohibiting sleep, laws which fly in the face of the most basic of human rights. She supported Measure Z, which shifts the burden of taxation away from land-owners, who reap most of the benefits of county government, and onto the working poor and homeless, who can afford it the least, and to whom the county offers little more than evictions and jail time. Most recently, her decision to hire a poorly qualified new Public Defender with a weak record, a decision which demoralized the County’s well-respected Public Defender’s office, will only make it less likely that the County will respect the rights of indigent defendants. Considering her record, putting a commissioner on the HRC who actually cares about human rights would be out of character, so we shouldn’t be surprised that Estelle Fennell rescinded Chris Weston’s appointment.
I asked Estelle Fennell, directly, why she removed Chris Weston from the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission. She didn’t want to tell me. She told me that Chris knew why she removed him, and that I should ask him, so I did. I invited Chris Weston to appear as a guest on my radio show, the Memorial Day (May 29) edition of KMUD’s Monday Morning Magazine. On my show, Chris told us that the reason Estelle gave Chris for why she removed him, was that he created “friction” within the HRC.
“Friction!” We’ve got teenage kids beating homeless old men with baseball bats in Southern Humboldt, and she’s worried about “friction” within the HRC. A man was set on fire in Garberville, but she’s worried about “friction” on the HRC. As Chris Weston said on the air, “Human rights don’t get defended without some friction.” and “if it weren’t for ‘some friction’ blacks would still be slaves, and women would still be the property of men.”
I think it will take “some friction” to address our continuing problem with violence against the poor and homeless in Southern Humboldt. We have a serious human rights problem in Southern Humboldt, and ignoring it won’t make it go away. If Ron Machado were gay, the incident where he was set on fire would be national news, and the perpetrators would face federal Hate Crime charges, but because he was poor, white and heterosexual, in Humboldt County, he’s just good kindling. That’s a cultural problem and it’s a cultural problem caused, not by poor and homeless people, but by the people with six-figure incomes around here, like Estelle Fennell.
We call it a “community” here in Southern Humboldt, but what goes on here is more like a casino. As long as you have money, we don’t care who you are, or where you got it; you’re welcome to stay and play. If you don’t have money, on the other hand, you’d better scram, even if you were born and raised here, even if you have a job and work here, even if you think you are part of the community here. To the rich people around here, like Estelle Fennell, you’re not a contributing member of the community, you’re just a loser, and you are taking up valuable real-estate, so move on. That’s how a casino operates, but you can’t build a community that way.
We don’t make “community” a priority, here in Humboldt County, we make money our sole priority, and ignore the social, cultural and human consequences of that decision. Our current Board of Supervisors has created an atmosphere conducive to gamblers, that lures shady business-people, and outright criminals into our community to loot us of our quality of life, ruin the environment, and exploit us economically, while it sweeps the social problems their policies create for our community, under the rug, or out the door.
They ignore the housing crisis. They ignore the addiction problem. They ignore the dead bodies. They ignore the violence against the poor and homeless. They ignore the sex trafficking, and they ignore the people in our community who are suffering. All they see is money. Everything else, they just brush off, throw away, or pretend it doesn’t exist. Of course, they can get away with that now, because there’s so much money around, but when this casino stops paying, the high- rollers will be gone, along with the money. All that will be left is the wreckage, and the losers. That is, the environment and the community.
It’s happening already. The smart money is getting out while the getting is good, leaving the suckers to lose their shirts on the downhill slide. Meanwhile, large scale organized crime has become entrenched in the area, institutionalizing hard drugs, sex trafficking and other crimes in Humboldt County while honest working people live in their cars or sleep under bridges because drug dealers have taken over most of the available space. That’s what’s happening to our community, and to our home, here in Humboldt County, thanks to our current Board of Supervisors.
The housing crisis here is literally killing people in Humboldt County, and Housing First won’t begin to address it. Our whole economy is based on dealing drugs, but we have almost no treatment for addiction, and we die from drug use at ten times the state average here in Humboldt County. The housing crisis forces people into the drug economy, and the drug economy drives addiction. Addiction leads to poverty, crime, hopelessness, and death. This is no accident. This is being done to us intentionally. This is how greedy parasites suck the life out of a community, and our current Board of Supervisors invited them here to do it. Now that Estelle Fennell has eliminated the “friction” at the HRC, I guess it will just be smooth sailin’ from here.
I spoke to Humboldt County Human Rights Commission Chairman Jim Glover twice this past week. I called him last Friday to invite him to be a guest on my radio show, Monday Morning Magazine, airing Monday, May 29 from 7-9am on KMUD, Redwood Community Radio (streaming live, and archived, at http://www.kmud.org ). I called because I wanted Jim to talk about the work that the HRC does on behalf of the Board of Supervisors. Having been to a couple of their meetings, I’ve gotten a sense of how the HRC operates, and in one sense, I think they do a great job, for the Board of Supervisors.
On the other hand, I don’t think the HRC does a very good job at all for the people of Humboldt County, and they do a tragic disservice to people who have been victims of human rights abuse. I became aware of the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission after a wave of vigilante violence swept Southern Humboldt last Fall. We had several mysterious deaths. One man was beaten so severely that he spent weeks in the hospital. He will probably never recover completely. Several others were assaulted, robbed and terrorized by vigilantes who, victims allege, identified themselves as “working with” the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department, and handed out eviction notices bearing the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department logo.
Multiple victims came forward with physical evidence, corroborating stories, and names of perpetrators, but deputies in the Garberville Substation of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department refused to take a report from at least one of the victims. Because the perpetrators identified themselves as working with the Sheriff’s Department, and the Sheriff was not at all helpful to the victims, the victims, terrified of reprisal from both local vigilantes and law enforcement, turned instead to the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission.
In retrospect, you would have to say that reporting these crimes to the HRC was a waste of time, at best. “At best,” because these reports did not get shared with the commission for several months, but were almost immediately leaked to 2nd District Supervisor, Estelle Fennell, a clear violation of the confidentiality agreement in which these reports were filed. Nezzie Wade chaired the HRC at the time. She was so shocked and appalled that the HRC’s own rules on handling correspondences had been completely disregarded and that a severe breach of confidence had occurred, that she refused to participate in the HRC any further, and walked out in the middle of the meeting.
In her resignation letter, Nezzie Wade puts it like this, “At the November regular meeting I stated my intention to resign from the commission and left the meeting experiencing great frustration due to the continuing improper conduct of business. I have struggled with my frustration and participation on the commission over this lack of consistency and follow through with protocols, since my appointment to the commission.”
She sites the handling of these reports of vigilante violence in Southern Humboldt specifically: “It was in relationship to the message line calls and email communications retrieved by a commissioner acting as the courier for the commission, that I became extremely inflamed over the course of two consecutive meetings (October and November) in which the reports and communications sent to the commission describing instances of vigilante violence in Southern Humboldt reported to the commission via the phone line and email were not revealed to the commission in a way that allowed the grave situations described in these communications to be disclosed to the commission. A violation of privacy and confidentiality occurred when the commissioner acted upon the information in the communications without authority from the originators or the commission, by disclosing the names of complainants and their issues to parties outside of the commission thus compromising the investigation and the ethical standing of the commission in the community.”
She added, “A real travesty occurred when the actual situations of violence were minimized and reported in their entirety as ‘possible vigilante activity’ rather than actual occurrences with the documentation. The standard forms for intake on the message line were never submitted to the secretary nor email declarations of the victims of vigilante violence as clarified when I requested copies of them from the secretary, received no response prior to the November meeting, and was informed by the secretary that the commission did not have them; thus, no one had access to the information except the commissioner acting as courier at that point, nearly two months beyond the initial reports. It was in this context that I stated my intention to resign which I am now acting upon.”
“All of the above highlights the ongoing lack of following appropriate protocols and my great frustration with the Human Rights Commission. One need only review the meetings, comparing the agendas for each meeting with the post meeting minutes. There are many inconsistencies, and the motions are not recorded or business is conducted without following the required processes. Much is omitted. The commission clearly needs training in how to do business. In addition, the lack of term limits has resulted in an atmosphere in which groupthink is pervasive and new members of the commission are often led into following poor methods of handling commission business;for example, the way in which message line calls are taken in, responded to and reported upon.”
Accompanying her letter of resignation, Nezzie Wade submitted a list of changes to the HRC that she’d like to see implemented. In it, she gets to the heart of why most people think the HRC helps victims of abuse, when in reality, they mostly produce resolution copy for the Board of Supervisors. She begins by quoting the purpose, responsibilities and obligations of the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission, as they appear in the Humboldt County Code:
The purpose of the HRC is to promote tolerance and mutual respect between all persons, and to
promote positive human relationships for the purpose of insuring public peace, health, safety and the
general welfare (Ord. 1023, § 5, 4/22/75; Amended by Ord. No. 2294. 2/25/03)
The responsibilities of the Human Rights Commission are enumerated in Humboldt County Code
Section 228-6 (Ordinances 1023 and 2294) and Article VI of the HRC Bylaws
1. To foster mutual respect and understanding among people, including people subject to prejudice
and discrimination due to race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental
disability, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, civic interest, or any
2. To make any studies in any field of human relationships in the County as, in the judgment of the
Commission, will aid in effectuating its general purposes.
3. To inquire into incidents of tension and conflict among or between people, including people
subject to prejudice and discrimination due to race, religious creed, color, national origin,
ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, marital status, gender, sexual orientation,
socioeconomic status, civic interest, or any other factors, and to take action by means of
conciliation, conference and persuasion to alleviate such tensions and conflict.
4. To conduct and recommend any educational programs as, in the judgment of the Commission,
will increase good will among inhabitants of the County and open new opportunities into all
phases of community life for all inhabitants.
The Human Rights Commission shall discharge the following obligations as enumerated in Humboldt
County Code Section 228-7 (Ordinances 1023 and 2294) and Article VII of the HRC Bylaws.
1. To hold conferences and other public meetings in the interest of the constructive resolution of
tensions, prejudice, and discrimination among or between groups of people, including people
subject to prejudice and discrimination due to race, religious creed, color, national origin,
ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, marital status, gender, sexual orientation,
socioeconomic status, civic interest, or any other factors.
2.To issue any publications, recommendations and reports of investigation as in its judgment will
tend to effectuate the purposes of this chapter.
3. To enlist the cooperation and participation of a variety of people, including people subject to
prejudice and discrimination due to race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry,
physical disability, mental disability, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic
status, civic interest, or any other factors, industry and labor organizations, media or mass
communication, fraternal and benevolent associations, and other groups in an educational
campaign devoted to fostering among the diverse groups of the County mutual esteem, justice
4. To encourage and stimulate agencies under the jurisdiction of the Board of Supervisors to take
any action as will fulfill the purpose of Humboldt County Code Section 228-6 (Ordinances 1023
5. To submit an annual report to the Board of Supervisors.
As anyone who reads the Humboldt County Code can see, the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission has a lot of responsibilities and obligations to the people of Humboldt County, even though they only serve an advisory role to the Board of Supervisors, and have no budget. From watching them in action, I can see that they take their role as advisers to the Board of Supervisors very seriously. Conversely, I also see that they fail miserably in their obligations and responsibilities to the people of Humboldt County. Nezzie Wade put it this way:
“While the statement of purpose focuses on the Commission as an organization to promote tolerance and mutual respect between all persons, and to promote positive human relationships for the purpose of
insuring public peace, health, safety and the general welfare, as a human rights organization the HRC
has been unable to truly effect a positive outcome in this regard because it has been absorbed
essentially with promoting ‘nice’ relationships with the BOS and others by keeping any conflicts at a
minimum and marginalized, thus not allowing for the expression of the discord within our community
as presented to the Commission in various ways, highlighted recently by the inappropriate handling of
communications received from members of the Southern Humboldt community regarding several
incidents of vigilante violence towards the homeless, which in no way has served to create an
atmosphere of mutual respect or public peace, safety and the general welfare.”
Basically, we had a series of violent crimes, with victims, evidence and witnesses to back them up, that implicate individuals within the Sheriff’s Department and respected community members, but rather than being investigated by law enforcement and prosecuted by the DA, these cases have been sucked into the black hole we call “the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission,” never to be heard from again, except in leaks back to the perpetrators. These crimes remain uninvestigated, and the perpetrators walk among us today.
Fast-forward to April 25 2017, Chris Weston, a recently appointed HRC Commissioner, called County Council’s office to inquire as to whether a particular email, sent from HRC Chair Jim Glover, to other HRC Commissioners only, was compatible with the Brown Act. Like Nezzie, Chris Weston had become frustrated with the obstructionism, unprofessionalism and lack of protocol on the HRC, and with Chairman Jim Glover in particular. On April 24, Weston talked with Glover about the email in question, and encouraged Glover to report the incident himself, but received no response. So, Commissioner Chris Weston felt obligated to report the email, which he said: “appears to intentionally hide a ‘back room deal’ among HRC members absent public knowledge,” to County Council.
Within two hours of placing that call to County Council’s office, Chris received this text message from Estelle Fennell: “effective today’s date April 25 2017 your participation on the commission is no longer required and I am rescinding your appointment.” Chris Weston was removed from the HRC by Estelle Fennell, less than two hours after reporting a probable Brown Act violation to County Council. It looks suspicious.
Here’s how Chris described it in his letter to District Attorney Maggie Flemming, dated April 28th: “If a commissioner is fired without prior discussion of any concerns or opportunity to rectify any shortcomings, it can easily be construed as unfair and inconsistent with the most rudimentary standards of free speech (First Amendment) due process (Fifth Amendment), powers (Ninth Amendment), Rights (Tenth Amendment) and Equal Protection Under the Law (Fourteenth Amendment) enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. If a commissioner appears to have been fired for inquiring about consistency of certain actions with the Brown Act, it sends a powerful message to all commissioners and society in general that the Brown Act is not seriously the law and flouting the Brown Act is allowed and protected by the powers that be in Humboldt County.”
It just gets darker, and deeper. HRC Chairman Jim Glover called me back on Monday, to decline my invitation to be a guest on the radio show, saying “It wouldn’t be proper” as though he were declining the interview on principle. I called him on it, citing the statement he made to the Times-Standard, asking why KMUD listeners don’t deserve the same consideration. He asked me who else would be on the show. I told him, that Chris Weston, Nezzie Wade and Debra Carey, would also be on the air live with him. At that, Jim Glover resolutely declined my invitation.
I have invited 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell to join us live on the air for this discussion as well. Estelle is a regular, if somewhat erratic guest on Monday Morning Magazine, and I do hope she will join us. After all, these violent crimes happened in her district and she appointed Chris Weston to the HRC to begin with. I’d think she’d be very interested in this, and I know that she could answer some important questions. I hope you’ll join us for an hour long discussion of , from 8-9am Monday, May 29, live on Redwood Community Radio, KMUD.
Last Thursday, I attended the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission’s regular monthly meeting on the first Thursday of the month. This “regular” meeting of the HRC proceeded very differently from the “special” meeting they held in Garberville back in February, which I also attended. At that “special” meeting back in February, the HRC conducted no business. Instead, they listened to us for a couple of hours, and scribbled notes in magic marker on a big pad of paper.
This, most recent, meeting was very different. This time, we got the see the HRC in action, and after seeing what they do, I understand why the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors appreciates them so much. The HRC does a lot of work for the Board of Supervisors. In this particular meeting, we watched them hammer out language for a county ordinance modeled after so-called “sanctuary city” laws that other places have passed, or are now considering, in response to recent changes in Federal immigration policy. The volunteers of the HRC drafted the resolution at no charge, so that the Supervisors can get paid to grandstand about it. What a deal!
“Human Rights Commission” is a great sounding name, and if you read their charter you could imagine that they have awesome power, especially when you read the part about them investigating human rights abuses. The charter makes them sound like UN Peacekeepers, but the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission doesn’t work like that. The HRC is made entirely of laypeople, chosen, it seems, because they know how to give good meeting. They have no training in recognizing human rights abuses and no expertise in investigating them, because, as HRC Chairman Jim Glover put it, “That’s not what we do.”
I started going to these meetings because of an ongoing pattern of violence against poor and homeless people in Southern Humboldt. The HRC has received sworn testimony from people who claim they were assaulted, robbed and evicted by vigilantes in Southern Humboldt. These vigilantes handed out eviction notices bearing the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department logo, and told their victims that they were acting on behalf of the Sheriff. I’ve seen a lot of corroborating evidence for these allegations, and investigative reporter Nicole Norris, aka Shakti, has been covering the story for KMUD.
These evictions were, at the time they occurred, just the latest violent attacks on poor and homeless people in Southern Humboldt, and concerned citizens were very careful to get statements from the victims, and sent those statements to the HRC, because this kind of violence has gotten so out of hand in Southern Humboldt. We demand an investigation into these crimes. We want to know who conducted these raids, and what, if any, legal authority they had to do so. We want to know how the Sheriff is involved, and why they have been so slow to investigate and prosecute these crimes, and we want the perpetrators of these crimes to be held accountable for their actions, and the victims compensated for their losses, because we don’t want vigilante violence in SoHum.
That’s why we went to the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission. We went to the HRC because of these specific human rights violations, and because we want to see them investigated. By now, it has been six months since these events took place, and two months since the special meeting where we complained about them not doing anything about the complaints made four months earlier. In the meantime, the HRC has gotten another dozen or so complaints of human rights abuse in Humboldt County, and another one walked in the door on the night of their most recent meeting. The HRC has investigated none of these complaints, and I doubt they would even know how.
I did get a copy of the HRC’s second draft of a new “proposed resolution” for “Houseless Emergency, Affordable Housing Zones and Sanctuary Parcels” which was at least partially motivated by testimony the HRC heard in Garberville back in February. The commissioners told us that the HRC had made similar recommendations to the Board of Supervisors in the past, which the Board of Supervisors repeatedly rejected. Commissioner Byrd Lochte told us that these recommendations had strained their relationship with the Board of Supervisors, because the Board of Supervisors just doesn’t want to hear it.
The way I see it, we have three overlapping problems here in Southern Humboldt:
This vigilante violence remains an ongoing problem in Southern Humboldt with deadly consequences. We demand an investigation into these crimes, and that the perpetrators be held accountable. We also want to know if anyone at the Sheriff’s Department gave these vigilantes permission to hand out eviction notices or in any way endorsed or allowed vigilantes to commit violent crimes against poor people in Southern Humboldt. These specific allegations of human rights abuse must be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Our Sheriff tells people that if someone breaks into your home, holds you at gunpoint and steals your money, you should call 911, even if you have a ton of weed around, because they want to catch violent criminals, and they’ll overlook the weed. Shouldn’t the Sheriff protect people who camp illegally, out of necessity, from violent vigilantes who raid their camps at least as much as they protect black market growers from the shady characters they associate with?
We need to know that the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department is not protecting violent criminals within our community, and we need to know that they will uphold the law, and protect the peace by protecting the most vulnerable people in our community. Garberville is crawling with cops these days, and they spend most of their time harassing poor people, but we still don’t know who killed Stephany Gawboy, who set Ron Machado on fire or who’s been leading the vigilante raids into homeless camps in Southern Humboldt. It’s not enough for the Sheriff to be visible; the Sheriff has to arrest and prosecute the violent criminals who prey on the SoHum community, including those who prey on the poor and homeless.